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The WHY, HOW, and WHAT of Protein

I’ve been getting a LOT of questions about protein, like:

Why do I need it?

How do I know if I’m getting enough?

What even IS protein and where can I find it?

So let’s clear some things up, shall we?

 

As a kid, I gravitated towards sugar and carbs and never really craved or even wanted protein. The lack of protein in my diet made it so I rarely felt satisfied, which intensified the cravings for the empty calories in junk food. Those constant cravings made me gain weight, and the lack of protein left me feeling fatigued and sluggish. Eventually I got fed up with my lack of energy and decided to adjust my diet to focus on protein. It didn’t take long to realize what I had been missing…

So, where do we begin? Let’s start with the basics…

WHAT is protein and WHY do we need it?

Protein is the foundation for everything in our body:  bones, muscles, blood, nerves, skin, etc. It is one of three macronutrients (aka “macros”) along with carbs and fat. The “macro” prefix just means that we need a lot of it in our diet, versus micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, which our bodies only need in trace amounts.

Protein is a crucial factor to consider if you’re trying to lose fat, put on muscle, or really change your body in any way. Protein makes us feel fuller for longer and curbs our cravings. It also helps us get stronger and leaner because it repairs and rebuilds the muscles that we stress during our workouts.

HOW MUCH protein do we need?

As I mentioned in an old blog post, the Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein for adults is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight, which is basically the minimum amount of protein that we need to prevent illness. If you’re active and exercise at least a few times per week, you definitely need more than that. I suggest my clients aim for about .6 – .8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight (or around 1g per pound of lean bodyweight).

Okay…what does that much protein look like?

Let’s walk through an example…

Female
5’5″
140lbs

Daily protein goal calculation =  84-112 g per day

Protein intake example:

  • Breakfast:  2 eggs + 3 slices bacon = 20g
  • Lunch:  Spinach salad with one chicken breast= 35g
  • Dinner:  Turkey burger w/ cheese with side of green beans = 40g

Total= 95g of protein

What kinds of foods have protein in them?

If you don’t eat a lot of meat or fish and you’re realizing that you don’t get enough protein, don’t freak out and go buy a bunch of expensive protein powders/shakes! (I talk about why I am not a fan of these  here.)

You will be much better served to get your protein from REAL foods.

Check your nutrition labels to get a better idea of actual protein content, but here are some high-protein foods to get you started:

  • Meat– Chicken, turkey, lean beef, pork
  • Fish– Tuna, salmon, halibut, tilapia, shrimp
  • Dairy/Eggs– Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, milk
  • Legumes– Lentils, peas, kidney beans, black beans, mixed nuts (almonds, cashews, etc), chickpeas (hummus), peanut butter
  • Vegetables– Broccoli, kale, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts
  • Other– Oats, quinoa, sunflower or pumpkin seeds

Getting enough protein is important in achieving your physique goals, but also just for basic health reasons. Our bodies need protein to function properly.

That being said, keep in mind that protein supplement and powder companies will try to convince you that you need excessive amounts of protein if you want to get lean and toned…this is a total myth. Too much protein can lead to some pretty nasty digestive issues, especially if you’re getting that protein from artificial sources. Like I always say, listen to your body as you make changes. If things feel a little funky, it’s worth questioning those changes.

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